New Zealand's two premier playmakers generally meet as rivals at this time of year, with Crusader Richie Mo'unga usually outperforming Hurricane Beauden Barrett due in part to what Steve Hansen believes is the former's advantage of playing behind a "Rolls Royce" pack. But who will shine in tomorrow's Super Rugby semifinal? Patrick McKendry has a guess.
In theory this is a knockout victory for Mo'unga because the Crusaders' pack is the All Blacks' pack in disguise. Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett and Matt Todd are experienced internationals, with the hard-working Whetukamokamo Douglas the only non-capped player in the home side's pack. Ardie Savea and Dane Coles are the Hurricanes' highest-profile forwards but there's no doubt about their quality.
Mo'unga takes this 10-8
Closer, but the Crusaders shade it due to their superb midfield of Ryan Crotty and Jack Goodhue and their in-form back trio of Sevu Reece, David Havili and George Bridge. Braydon Ennor is on the bench and there's no room at all for Will Jordan. The Hurricanes have serious quality in TJ Perenara, Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett but will miss the injured Matt Proctor and Wes Goosen. Inexperienced wing Salesi Rayasi brings power but also defensive vulnerabilities.
Not even close. Barrett wins this round via his 73 tests v Mo'unga's nine, and his nine years at the Hurricanes. Barrett has also attended a World Cup, and in fact shone in the final against the Wallabies at Twickenham four years ago, so he knows what it takes to win in all sorts of situations. In Mo'unga's favour is his quick development since taking over the role from Dan Carter and his experience in leading the Crusaders to two titles and three finals series in three years.
This is close, but Barrett clinches it due to his greater consistency off the tee this season compared with Mo'unga: 79.6 per cent v 73.9 per cent. Mo'unga has improved significantly in this aspect of his game, and kicked at 100 per cent last weekend in the quarter-final against the Highlanders, but was slow to get in the groove. In terms of kicks from hand and the vision to see space and opportunities for their teammates, it's very close between the pair. Barrett could look to his tall little brother Jordie on the flanks, while Mo'unga could see chances for the high-leaping Sevu Reece.
Overall performance this season:
Barrett was a late arrival to the Hurricanes this season due to an extended break and has played 12 matches, three fewer than Mo'unga, who has again been a model of consistency. Mo'unga just edges this for that reason. He is so influential that even the Crusaders miss him when he's unavailable – for example in their loss to the Waratahs in Sydney – and his passing game is probably slightly superior to Barrett's. He's also beaten 42 defenders compared with Barrett's 21.
And the winner is...
A close one but Mo'unga remains in the driver's seat of the Roller. Crusaders forwards coach Jason Ryan said this week that the Crusaders had delivered their best training session in three years, which may be significant, or may not be. Either way, Mo'unga is probably going to get better opportunities than his rival, and he has the quality to make the most of them.